BEats: A Buskers' Special: Ken
With more spaces being introduced to the busking scene, buskers are given more platforms to showcase their talents. But the question arises: is busking only about the loose change? Muhammad Firdaus and Ken Loh, two outgoing and amiable buskers from Singapore, tell us more about the art of busking
WORDS METYS NGO
PHOTOGRAPHY CHIA JIA LI
Rarely will a hobby sound like one’s calling in life, but for 21-year-old Ken Loh, his love for his casual pastime bloomed so intensely into a passion that his delving into it has changed his life.
Now, he is a full-time busker who frequents the streets to spread his love for music, and he confesses that if he hadn’t gotten into music, he wouldn’t know much about what to do with his life.
Ken started on this journey almost three years ago in 2015, a mere two years after he first started to learn music at the age of 17. Back then, he asked his friend to join him in busking, but when his friend turned him down in lieu of other commitments, he decided – why not do it himself?
“Initially I started busking just to kill time, because in the military I had a lot of free time. So I did that on the side, but it slowly turned into something else as I slowly began to enjoy it more, more so than I thought I would. The expression of music became very important to me after a while,” he said.
For Ken, busking is also a kind of art different from other forms of musical performances.
He said: “I don’t mind playing for staged shows. I quite enjoy it sometimes, but only for a set or two, then it gets tiring after that. I enjoy busking because I can take my own sweet time and do whatever I want. I feel very relaxed and at home while I’m busking, while for staged shows or other musical performances, it’s more like you’re elevated on some form of pedestal. The connection between the audience and yourself… it’s not as organic and raw as when you’re busking.”
Ken also hopes for the busking scene to grow larger than it currently is, and thinks busking brings something unique to the table in the local music scene.
“I feel like busking allows people who haven't done anything musical but have talent for it to join. It’s like anybody can come and do [busking]. And those who survive, I feel like they’ve earned their right to be a part of the scene.”
However, Ken confesses that he often doubts his profession, and not everyone speaks kindly about buskers. Every once in a while, some people might even “give him the eye”, though he finds it understandable because he cannot please everyone. In fact, he thinks that the stigma surrounding busking might not necessarily be a bad thing.
He said: “I feel like doubt is good, because doubt forces you to improve. If I ever feel contented I’ll be like, ‘okay, I need to go somewhere else, I need to challenge myself.’ If you’re not nervous and there’s no doubt in your head, everything becomes easy, and… what’s the point? Because if you’re content with where you are, that’s the worst. Doubt, but don’t be afraid. Have doubt, be scared, be terrified, but still do it. That’s where people improve. Without some struggle, no improvement will come.”
Despite his positive outlook, Ken doesn’t know if he will continue to busk forever. Currently, he frequently busks at The Cathay and outside the shopping mall Wisma, at Orchard, and will continue to do so for another six months before he travels overseas to study a Bachelor’s in music. One thing that’s for certain, though, is that busking will always remain Ken's first love, and the first brush he had with his passion of music.